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Mequon votes to assess Port Road businesses for street improvements

City wants $612,000 of road improvement costs paid

Dec. 14, 2012

Mequon - After nearly an hour of discussion the Mequon Common Council this week voted to move forward with a proposal to assess business owners for improvements made along North Port Washington Road.

The council's decision came on a 5-3 vote, with proponents stating the tweaks along the heavily traveled intersection benefit the businesses and opponents stating the assessments are an undue burden. The vote came Monday after months of discussion at various committees.

The project entailed widening North Port Washington Road and also included improvements to existing infrastructure. Enhancements included new turn lanes, installation of sidewalks and new lighting, landscaping and storm sewer systems.

The entire improvement project carried a $9.7 million price tag. State and federal funds carried the majority - $7.1 million - of the total cost. Ozaukee County chipped in an additional $1.2 million, leaving the city with a balance of $1.4 million.

City staff had projected assessing $912,600 back to the businesses along North Port Washington Road, but the number was reduced by $300,000 after a successful amendment by Alderman Andrew Nerbun.

A proposal to charge a 6 percent interest rate on business owners not paying their assessed amount at once also was proposed by city staff, but put on hold for the foreseeable future.

Timing looks bad for city

While he agreed the assessment was necessary, Nerbun was critical of the timing. He said he believed the assessment should have been discussed and acted upon before the construction work took place several years ago.

"It makes us look disorganized and adds frustration to an already frustrating process," Nerbun said.

Alderwoman Pam Adams also agreed the assessments were necessary.

"I do think some of the businesses needed this to develop," she said.

Burden on business owners

But other aldermen, including John Wirth, maintained different perspectives.

"Businesses do create a lot of our traffic, but they also pay a heck of a lot more in taxes," Wirth said, pointing out many of the property owners do not benefit from such city services as schools and parks.

"This is a huge commercial road, but somehow we're putting it on the backs of business owners," Wirth added.

As a matter of policy, Alderman Dan Abendroth said he was against specially assessing taxpayers.

"I've consistently voted against special assessments, and I'm going to do it again in this instance," he said. "I can't support this. We need to support the existing businesses we have. This doesn't do that."

The interest rate proposal will be revisited at a different date. Adams said she recommends keeping it at a fixed amount, once it is determined.

"To keep changing the interest rate is not something we'd want to do," she said. "It would be an administrative nightmare. We're not a bank."

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